Our Living Memorial to 9/11

Genealogists spend a tremendous amount of time in the past, seeking out our family members. We work hard to not only identify them, but to go past the bare bones of “born, married, died” to get a glimpse into who they were as individuals. How did they fit into their communities, both locally and on a greater scale? How did historical events, such as World War I, impact them individually? Unfortunately, we spend so much time in the deeper past that we often forget to write about our own lives.

Today marks the seventeenth anniversary of one of the most significant days in world history. Every one of us who was a teenager or older remembers where we were when the planes came down, and over the next few days. Have you taken the time to write down your memories of that time? What did you feel? How did it impact you, not only at the time, but afterwards? Here is a brief story of my experience and memories of that fateful day and its aftermath.

The morning of September 11, 2001, was bright and clear in Boston. My taxi pulled up in front of Terminal A at Logan Airport, dropping me off for my flight to the Quad Cities where I would be speaking at the FGS conference. As I walked in, an unprecedented sight hit me. The airport was closing down around us. Passengers were being herded from the gate areas. Check-in desks were closed. The monitors with flight information were blank. Attendants were as clueless as we were. I decided to back to NEHGS, wondering what was going on. In the taxi, we heard over the radio that reports were coming in of a plane hitting the north tower.

In my office at work, the horror unfolded over my computer terminal. Every plane in America was grounded. We all thought the flights would be going again the next day. On Wednesday morning, my friend Lynn Betlock and I decided we were going to take a bus from Boston to Quad Cities. It was important to us to be at the FGS conference (since it was in the Midwest, many people drove and had already arrived there). As we left Worcester, my mobile rang. Our friend Laura Prescott called to tell us she had obtained a rental car and would meet us in Albany to pick us up and finish the trip.

We drove through the night, arriving at the hotel just 20 minutes before I was to make my first presentation. A quick costume change and I made it to my room exactly on time. I, along with others, covered for those speakers who couldn’t make it that week. We delivered numerous extra presentations to ensure that those present would have as good an experience as possible. The flag flew in the central entryway, next to televisions tuned to the news all day. During those long few days we hugged and cried. We learned how to make origami creatures (how nice!) and supported each other in a myriad ways.
Returning home was difficult. Two of the planes had departed from Logan International Airport. Several of my friends were flight attendants for American and United, and it took days to find out that they were safe. Nobody I knew was more than two degrees separated from someone who died, either in the planes or in the towers. The manager of a store across the street from NEHGS was on Flight 11. Several of my friends knew Mark Bingham, a gay rugby player who was one of the heroes of Flight 93. We have a memorial to the New England victims here in the Public Garden in Boston.

I’ve been to the memorial for the victims in Manhattan, but have not yet been able to bring myself to go into the museum.
The best memorials to those who died that day, however, fall to each of us. To remember them and their stories. To fight terrorism everywhere. To fight the racism and xenophobia that tries to take control, understanding that diversity is America’s greatest strength. To live our best lives, and not let these forces of adversity win.

NBC’s Timeless Ignores History

.I understand that television requires a certain amount of suspension of disbelief when it comes to facts and the real world. But when a show revolves around history, it should take extra precautions to be accurate with the historical facts, even if the drama around them might be a bit loose. While I enjoy the NBC television show Timeless, the historical inaccuracies that creep in  are disappointing and problematic. Last week’s episode revolving around the Salem Witch Trials and Abiah (Folger) Franklin, for example, was full of problems, some of which could have been avoided with a simple search on Google.

 

As the heroic trio arrives at Salem on 22 September 1692, they bump into a young woman and ask who she is. She responds “Abby here. Who asks?” As a genealogist well-versed in colonial New England, I can say that Abby is a fairly common nickname. In those times it was used as a familiar form of Abigail, and occasionally Tabitha. It is not, however, a nickname for Abiah. I have spent many years researching Benjamin Franklin’s family, and I have never seen a document that refers to her as anything but Abiah. Modern families may use it as such, but this was not the case in 1692.

The response to “Abby’s” inquiry is “My name is Lucy and this is Rufus. We’re in from Boston.” Followed by “. . . my husband and I are from the Old South Church in Boston. Reverend Willard Sent us.” Reverend Samuel Willard served as pastor of the congregation from 1678 to his death in 1707. But in 1692, the congregation was the Third Church of Boston, and occasionally the South Church (because it was in the south end of the town), which gathered at the Cedar Meeting House. It did not become known as the Old South Church until 25 years after the witch trials, when the descriptor was added to differentiate it from the New South Church which had just started.

Even more egregious, however, is this simple fact: Josiah Franklin had been a part of the Third Church since arriving in Boston about 1684. Five of his children were baptized there. And when he married Abiah Folger on 25 November 1689, the Rev. Samuel Willard was the minister who married them. Curious then, that it does not even brook a notice of concern from “Abby” that she has never seen these people who claim to be from her congregation.

The subplot around Samuel Sewall is also a bit strange. There is no mention of the fact that Samuel, another congregant of the Third Church, was good friends with Josiah Franklin. One of the judges stands by and says nothing at all while his friend’s wife is accused of witchcraft? This does not seem likely. It is also odd that there is no discussion of the impact that the death of Samuel Sewall would have on history. He was the only one of the Salem judges that later publicly repented and apologized for his participation. He wrote an early treatise against slavery, and served as chief justice of the highest court of the commonwealth for many years, ruling in countless cases. Yet when he dies in the episode, it is all about Rufus.

When visiting “Abby’s” sister Bathsheba, her husband says to them: “Boston’s fifteen miles away. It must have taken you two all day.”  The first error is minor, but still irritating especially for those of us who live in Massachusetts. It is true that the modern city of Salem is 15 miles from the city of Boston. However, the events of 1692 did not take place in that location. They took place in Salem Village, which today is the city of Danvers, Massachusetts. Salem Village was 20 miles away from Boston, not 15 — a 33% error in the distance travelled.

Another error is in the second part of the sentence: “It must have taken you two all day.” Had the company been journeying overland, this might be the case. But in 17th-century Massachusetts Bay, they would never have travelled that distance overland. They would have taken a boat. Right out of Boston Harbor, up the coast to Cape Ann and into Salem Harbor. A much shorter journey than overland.

Perhaps the most egregious error, however, is this: Abiah would never have gone to Salem in late September 1692. Indeed, she would never even have left Boston. In September 1692 she was raising five stepchildren ranging in age from six to fifteen, as well as her own baby son John, only twenty months old. It is hardly likely she would leave these children alone. But there is an even bigger reason she would not have left Boston in late September: because at that time she was seven months pregnant. She gave birth to her second child, Peter Franklin, on 22 November 1692. The show portrays her as thin, hardly the look of a woman in her final trimester. And with a sister and good friend there, nothing is said about her pregnancy while she is being manhandled and thrown in prison?

I understand the need to create drama for good television. But there are ways to do it without blatantly trampling all over the very premise that the show is founded on. Historians and genealogists could easily advise the writers on how to avoid major pitfalls like the ones above, yet still maintain the integrity of the storyline. In this episode, for example, the major issue of Abiah’s pregnancy could be avoided by moving it earlier in the year. And the director and producers could have been informed of the importance of not leaving the impact of Sewall’s death on the cutting room floor. And other issues, like the travel, are throwaway lines that could easily be rewritten. If Timeless is renewed for a third season (and I certainly hope it is), I hope the producers take head of these issues and bring on some consultants to ensure the integrity of  all episodes.

5 In the News

The following stories captured my interest this week. From ancient earthquakes and Viking DNA to modern crimes and architecture, they tell us much about out past.

DNA Proves Viking Women Were Powerful Warriors
“An elaborate Viking Age grave in Sweden holds the remains of a decorated female warrior from the 10th century, providing the first archaeological evidence that women held high-status positions in Viking culture.”

What Crime Most Changed the Course of History
The Atlantic asked a number of writers, directors, producers, crime specialists, and average readers to answer this question. Some of the responses may surprise you.

Nashville’s Fort Negley  Nominated as Globally Recognized Site for Slavery
“Fort Negley, a Civil War-era fort in Nashville that is getting renewed attention amid the debate over a proposed development nearby called Cloud Hill, is now nominated to join a worldwide registry of historically significant sites for slavery.”

The Deadliest Earthquake Ever Recorded
“Humans have been recording earthquakes for nearly 4,000 years. From the ones we know about, the deadliest by far happened in China in 1556 A.D. On January 23 of that year, a powerful quake rocked the province of Shaanxi as well as the neighboring province of Shanxi, killing an estimated 830,000 people.”

Five Architects on the One Building They Wish Had Been Preserved
Another survey, this one from the Smithsonian. The publisher asked five prominent architects to name the one building that has been destroyed that they wished had not been. Interesting answers, including one who changed the rules and did not name a building but something else instead.

Land Ownership in Canada

Our French-Canadian ancestors had a far different system of land ownership than we, their Franco-American descendants, are used to. The seigneurial system, born out of feudal France, requires we think of researching their property records in different ways.

In the earliest days of the settlement, the crown granted large swaths of land to the Company of New France (also known as the Company of One Hundred Associates), various branches of the church, and to a limited number of individuals. These grants were called seigneuries. Individuals who received the grants were called seigneurs. The church and the company acted as the seigneur for their grants.

The seigneurs would then give their own grants to individuals, who would pay a cens (a small annual cash payment) and rent, much larger and usually a combination of cash, crops, and farm animals. These were the habitants who cleared the land and created farms. They were usually referred to in official documents as censitaires.

Waterways were the primary method of travel in New France, thus everyone wanted easy access to them. Seigneuries usually had a certain amount of frontage on the river, with the land extending deep back from there. The seigneuries would then be further subdivided with each censitaire receiving a certain amount of frontage, with the rest of the land going back from there.

Censitaires were able to assign their property to others. They could buy or sell rights to property, or leave their property to their children through a will, division of estate, or other method. As censitaires distributed their land to their children, the property would be further subdivided. Eventually the land would become a series of tiny strips moving away from the water.

Once the seigneury was divided and no further frontage was available, the land would be subdivided into ranges (pronounced like rang in the phrase “rang the bell”). A second range of subdivisions would be created by the first. In some cases, a third or fourth (or more) range might eventually be created. These were seldom neat, straight lines. Natural occurrences (such as marsh/swamp land, ravines, and more) might impact the way the land was granted. The lower the range, the greater the likelihood that your ancestor might have been more economically successful.

The seigneurial system of land tenure continued even after the Conquest. It continued throughout the first half of the nineteenth century until the passage of the Feudal Abolition Act of 1854. It was not until well into the twentieth century, however, that the seigneuries were all finally totally gone.

Records of these rentals, as well as sales and purchases of individuals’ rights to property, are found in the notarial records. Remember that not all transactions were handled locally, and the notaire in the seigneurie may not by the one who handled all the legal contracts surrounding the property of your ancestors.

For more information on the history of land and property in Quebec, see:

Harris, Richard Colebrook. The Seigneurial System in Early Canada Madison, Wisc.: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1968.

Munro, William Bennett. Documents Relating to the Seigneurial Tenure in Canada, 1598–1854 New York: Greenwood Press, Publishers, 1968. First published 1908 by the Champlain Society.

Five in the News

With this post I am reintroducing a popular feature from my days at Mocavo. A weekly roundup of interesting stories of interest to genealogists. This week’s stories include ancient explanations for eclipses and explorations of trigonometry, maritime mysteries of the Pearl Harbor survivor USS Indianapolis and Confederate submarine Hunley, and the historic significance of twentieth-century Black Beaches of Maryland.

How Maryland Black Beaches are Becoming Staples of American History
Between the 1920s and 1960s, there weren’t many beaches where African-Americans could freely enjoy themselves without encountering discrimination. So, Carr’s Beach and just a few other beaches in the D.C. area became a safe space. Legends such as James Brown and Jackie Wilson would perform at Carr’s.

How 5 Ancient Cultures Explained Solar Eclipses
Solar eclipses have been fascinating—and often terrifying—humans throughout the course of history . . . As millions prepare to witness the phenomenon, find out how some early cultures and religions tried to explain and understand a solar eclipse.

This 3,700-Year-Old Babylonian Clay Tablet Just Changed the History of Maths
A Babylonian clay tablet dating back 3,700 years has been identified as the world’s oldest and most accurate trigonometric table, suggesting the Babylonians beat the ancient Greeks to the invention of trigonometry by over 1,000 years.

How the USS Indianapolis, WWII Navy Ship with a Dramatic History, was Finally Rediscovered
On July 30th, 1945, the Indianapolis was at sea, having just completed a top-secret mission delivering key components of the atomic bomb Little Boy to a naval base in the Northern Mariana Islands, when it was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine. Just 15 minutes later, the ship that survived the Pearl Harbor attack was underwater. . . Ultimately, only 316 survived the ordeal. For decades, the final resting place of the Indianapolis was lost to the ocean.

Solving the Mystery of What Killed a Civil War Submarine Crew
The dead submarine crew hadn’t moved from their stations for nearly 150 years when the vessel was raised from the ocean in 2000. Whatever killed them happened so suddenly that they never made a run for the escape hatch. What’s more, they had no obvious physical injuries.

The Money of New France

Part of researching our ancestors’ lives is looking at their economic situation. How much real estate did they own? What did it cost? What personal property did they have and what was its value? Part of determining this information is having an understanding of the currency of the period and what the value of that currency is.

In the colony of New France, the monetary system is a bit complicated. The system was based on the livre. Just as British currency was divided into pounds, shillings, and pence, the livre was subdivided into sols and deniers. The major difference between the two currencies was that there was no livre coin. There were twelve deniers in a sol, and twenty sols in a livre. When written out, it was often abbreviated. Instead of saying 10 livres, 5 sols, and 3 deniers, it would be written as 10ll.8s.9d.

These denominations were the same in France as they were in the French colonies, such as New France and Saint Domingue. But the value of the money was different. Until 1717, the monnaie du pays or argent du Canada was worth less than the monnaie de France or argent de France. The value was lessened and reduced by one quarter. It was not until 1717 that the monies were equalized in value.

During this time there was no paper currency, only coinage. And coins were not minted in New France. They were brought into the colony by the King’s ships. This would cause shortages if a ship was delayed, especially if the next ship could not come until the following Spring.

In the late 17th century, The intendant Demeulle used playing cards as a form of paper currency. He signed  cards, declaring them to worth varying amounts of money. This did not cause inflation, as it was not meant to increase the amount of money in circulation, only as a temporary way of paying the government’s bills. When the next ship arrived, the cards were turned in for coins. This system was used until 1714, but in 1729 French-Canadian merchants demanded a return to the system in order to keep the economy moving. Some of this card money is still in private hands, and very collectible. This card was expected to sell at auction for $8,000.

To find out more about French-Canadian currency, see “The French Colonies and the Exchange on Paris” in John J. McCusker Money and Exchange in Europe and America, 1600­–1775 (Williamsburg, Va.: Institute of Early American History and Culture, 1978 (280–90) and “Economic Life” in Marcel Trudel Introduction to New France (Pawtucket, R.I.: Quintin Publications, 1997) 184–89.